Fast forward

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

One nice thing about modern DVD players is that they have this little button you can push during the boring parts of the movie to skim through it in fast-forward mode. Justin’s getting pretty boring these days, with his endless repetition of the same misquotations, twisted interpretations, and overdrawn conclusions, so I think we should just engage fast forward mode and just hit the highlights of the next several chapters.

In chapter 45, Justin quotes Psalm 110 (which Jesus allegedly applied to himself in Matt. 22:41-46), and as usual, he throws in a unique twist so that he can claim a first-century fulfillment. The second verse of the psalm says this: “The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
‘Rule in the midst of Your enemies.'” In context, David is saying God has given him authority over all the other nations on earth, but Justin has a somewhat different interpretation.

That which he says, “He shall send to Thee the rod of power out of Jerusalem,” is predictive of the mighty, word, which His apostles, going forth from Jerusalem, preached everywhere.

As usual, he’s taking a non-prophecy as a prophecy, he garbles the words of the text slightly, and then he finds some sort of contemporary parallel, no matter how far-fetched, that he can claim as a fulfillment. In Justin’s hermeneutic, what God really means often has little to do with what He actually says, and therefore the non sequitur is the key to understanding prophecy.

In chapter 46, Justin addresses those who might accuse Christians of teaching that men prior to the first century were not responsible for their sins, since the gospel had not yet been preached. Justin’s response to this argument is that Jesus is “the Word [logos] of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably [meta logou] are Christians.” It’s a pun in Greek, and I’m sure that to a native speaker it wouldn’t seem as lame an argument as it does in translation.

Interestingly, Justin names some of these pre-New-Testament “Christians,” and his list includes Socrates, Heraclitus, Abraham, and Ananias. He also notes in passing that at this point he has given us enough evidence (or at least what he thinks is evidence) for us to draw a reasonable conclusion about whether or not Jesus is really Christ. He’s right, too—we’ve seen more than enough to tell us what Christianity is. Unfortunately for Justin, it’s clearly a myth drawn from the voracious superstition, revisionism, and irrationality of early believers.

Chapter 47 quotes a passage or two from Isaiah about the devastation of Palestine under the Assyrians and Babylonians, which Justin re-casts as a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Chapter 48 appeals once again to the alleged Acts of Pontius Pilate, this time for proof that Jesus supposedly fulfilled prophecies by healing the lame and the sick. For extra points, he tosses in the first few lines of Isaiah 57—“The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart”—and claims they are a prophecy predicting that Christians would be martyred for preaching the gospel.

Chapter 49 takes a decidedly smug tone with respect to the Jews, gloating over the way Gentiles were so much more open to the gospel than the Jews were. This, in Justin’s mind, is evidence not that Christians were getting Jewish Scriptures wrong, but that Gentiles were better than Jews at understanding Jewish Scripture! And as usual, Justin tosses in an Old Testament passage, in which God complains about Israel’s disobedience during the reign of the ancient kings, and makes it a prediction of Jewish rejection of Jesus. That’s not an original idea with Justin, of course—Paul made much the same argument in Romans 10. But Justin seems just a tad more gleeful about it.

This same chapter also makes a fascinating reference to God as “the Unbegotten God.” It’s just a remark made in passing, so we can’t learn too much from it, but it is another interesting glimpse at the difference in Justin’s mind between God, who is Unbegotton, and Jesus, who is the Only Begotten. After the Council of Nicaea makes the Trinity official, you won’t find many (or any) Christians calling God “the Unbegotten,” since the Only Begotten is supposed to be God too.

Chapter 50 is mostly just a recital of portions of Isaiah 52 and 53, which Christians both before and after Justin have seized on as applying specifically to Jesus. Justin doesn’t say much about it except to quote it and claim that it’s talking about Jesus. Chapter 51 quotes the rest of Isaiah 53 and then quotes Psalm 24:7—“Lift up your heads, O gates, And be lifted up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in!”—as being a prophecy that Jesus would ascend to heaven after being resurrected. Then Justin exhorts us to heed the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, as the Son of man He cometh in the clouds of heaven, and His angels with Him.” Trouble is, Jeremiah didn’t say those words—they’re from Daniel 7:13.

By chapter 52, we’re ready for Justin to close the deal. He’s made his pitch, he’s presented his goods, now he just needs to get us to sign the contract and fork over the dough (or our souls or whatever).

Since, then, we prove that all things which have already happened had been predicted by the prophets before they came to pass, we must necessarily believe also that those things which are in like manner predicted, but are yet to come to pass, shall certainly happen. For as the things which have already taken place came to pass when foretold, and even though unknown, so shall the things that remain, even though they be unknown and disbelieved, yet come to pass.

Two sentences that say exactly the same thing: we know the remaining prophecies must come to pass, because the previous prophecies did. And judging from how Justin derived the “fulfillment” of those earlier prophecies, I think it’s safe to say that all the remaining prophecies were fulfilled yesterday, when I had a microwaved chicken sausage for lunch, and burned the roof of my mouth. That may sound like it has nothing at all to do with what those other prophecies are actually saying, but as we’ve seen repeatedly in this Apology, that little obstacle has never stopped Justin.

Justin is quite clear about one thing, though: sinners will be raised from the dead, will thrown into hell, and will feel it.

He shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by His angelic host, when also He shall raise the bodies of all men who have lived, and shall clothe those of the worthy with immortality, and shall send those of the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire with the wicked devils… And in what kind of sensation and punishment the wicked are to be, hear from what was said in like manner with reference to this; it is as follows: “Their worm shall not rest, and their fire shall not be quenched;” and then shall they repent, when it profits them not.

Justin’s not one of those “suffer in hell until you repent and then go to heaven” kind of apologists. You can be sorry all you want, but you ain’t getting out of that eternal torment. Justin also has an interesting quote with respect to the resurrection.

By Ezekiel the prophet it was said: “Joint shall be joined to joint, and bone to bone, and flesh shall grow again; and every knee shall bow to the Lord, and every tongue shall confess Him.”

That’s a few phrases from Ezekiel 37 edited to contain a similarly hand-picked selection of phrases from the end of Isaiah 45. Both passages are explicitly talking about bringing the Jews back from the Babylonian Captivity and turning Israel into a supreme nation over all the earth. In the Ezekiel passage, God Himself specifically declares that the prophecy is about the Jews returning from the Captivity. But what does God know about prophecy, eh? Justin knows that the prophecy is really all about physically raising the dead so they can feel all the pain when they’re thrown into hell.

The chapter wraps up with Justin quoting Zechariah 12 (edited to contain snippets from Isaiah 63 and 64) so as to indulge in a little anticipatory gloating over how much shame and humiliation Israel is going to suffer when they see Jesus coming back down from heaven. Charming.

Chapter 53 opens on an encouraging note.

Though we could bring forward many other prophecies, we forbear, judging these sufficient for the persuasion of those who have ears to hear and understand; and considering also that those persons are able to see that we do not make mere assertions without being able to produce proof.

Again, he’s right. The material he’s provided so far is more than sufficient to tell us (a) the “evidence” on which his conclusions are based and (b) the value of listening to further presentations of such “evidence.” It might even be enough to make a preliminary estimate regarding Justin’s ability to distinguish fact from delusion. We certainly don’t need any more arguments based on arbitrary and far-fetched reinterpretations of out-of-context quotes.

So what shall we talk about now that Justin has promised to “forbear” bringing us any more prophetic arguments?

And the prophecy in which it was predicted that there should be more believers from the Gentiles than from the Jews and Samaritans, we will produce: it ran thus: “Rejoice, O barren, thou that dost not bear; break forth and shout, thou that dost not travail, because many more are the children of the desolate than of her that hath an husband.”For all the Gentiles were “desolate” of the true God, serving the works of their hands; but the Jews and Samaritans, having the word of God delivered to them by the prophets, and always expecting the Christ, did not recognise Him when He came, except some few, of whom the Spirit of prophecy by Isaiah had predicted that they should be saved. He spoke as from their person: “Except the Lord had left us a seed, we should have been as Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Ah, the old More Prophecies After Promising No More Prophecies fail. This guy wants to tell us what’s going to happen at the Second Coming, and he can’t even accurately predict how he’s going to end his own paragraphs.

That brings us up to Chapter 54, and it looks like this one might be a bit more interesting, so let’s hit the pause button here and pick it up again, at normal speed, next week.

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